Start Local is focused on helping businesses in Chester County, PA, and the greater Philly area as they try to navigate through the COVID-19 economy. Our aim is to help you learn where you can get help, to share stories of businesses which have successfully pivoted, and to document the real challenges these local businesses are facing.
Connecting with Local Non-Profits with Stephenie D. Stevens
While we have focused on businesses in and around Chester County since shortly after the arrival of COVID-19, we know that non-profits in the area have suffered the same challenges and hurdles. To learn what non-profits in Chester County are experiencing, and how those non-profits are pivoting, we spoke with Stephenie D. Stevens, Grants & Outreach Officer with the Chester County Community Foundation.
* The Chester County Community Foundation’s Community Leadership page is designed to provide information/resources on things like COVID-19 and how non-profits are responding: chescocf.org/community-leadership/* Useful sites for Due Diligence:* PA Bureau of Charitable Organizations : Search this database to determine if a charity or fundraiser is registered in PA* Guide Star: Analyze a nonprofit’s financial health using IRS-990 data and accountability information* Give.org Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance: Monitors and rates charity governance, effectiveness, finances and solicitation, to promote informed giving and charitable integrity nationally* Chester County Community Foundation* Phoenixville Health Foundation* Brandywine Health Foundation* Organizations mentioned in the show:* Camp Dreamcatcher
What are non-profits in Chester County experiencing during this COVID-19 economy?
* Many local charities that provide human services are seeing a 30%-50% increase in demand for their respective services.* Those non-profits that were forced to close – like those in arts and culture – have struggled to re-open successfully because they really on ticket sales for revenue.* Smaller charities across Chester County have seen a $30 million drop in donations in 2020 over 2019.* Those small charities expect to take 7 to 8 years to recoup the lost donation revenues.* Locally, the hardest hit non-profit sector is the arts and culture sector. Those charities have seem their revenue streams cut off or dramatically reduced as they switched to presenting shows and events online.
Do you have examples of non-profits have successfully pivoted to offer their services and programs in new ways?
* The pandemic has forced non-profits to think outside the box; they have had to connect with their communities in new way.* The health sector has very quickly adapted tele-health approaches.* Camp Dreamcatcher, which provides therapeutic and educational programs to HIV/AIDS impacted youth and their families now offers online counseling.* Camp Dreamcatcher ran its summer camp online and streamed online activities with its animals.* Non-profits focused on supporting animals have been streaming groups of puppies or kittens playing together.* Food banks have transitioned to move food distribution outside in more of a flea market sort of way. * As charities transition away (temporarily) from galas, online events and fundraisers are how charities are working to sustain themselves; however online events generally mean smaller audiences and reduced revenues for charities.* Like businesses, charities are working hard to create new and diversified revenue streams.
For folks who want to support their local charities, how can they review and vet those non-profits?
* The most valuable resource for investigating non-profits is online research. Search for the non-profit on Google or DuckDuckGo.
Crafting Support for the Hospitality + Restaurant Sectors with Bill Covaleski
With winter weather fast approaching, we know that the local restaurant and hospitality sector is facing an even more precarious position because of the ongoing challenges of COVID-19. We sat down with Bill Covaleski, a Co-Founder and Brewmaster at Victory Brewing Company, and the Chairman of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association (PRLA). Bill shared his experience of learning from and with his local business community through the PRLA, and how local restaurants, event companies, and businesses across the hospitality sector can work together to support their companies, staff, and customers.
* Hospitality Assistance Response of Pennsylvania (HARP): parelief.org* Buy a Victory Brewing Company t-shirt in support of H.A.R.P. (100% proceeds to cause!)* Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association (PRLA) membership: prla.org/whyjoin.html
What does a brewmaster do?
* Bill Covaleski and his friend and co-founder, Ron Barchet, graduated from the Doemens Institute in Munich, Germany.* Bill and Ron had very hands-on roles in the early days of making beer with Victory Brewing Company; overtime, they transitioned to growing a talented team of brewers to take over leading the creation of the beer.* Now, Bill and Ron now advise, guide, set targets and monitor the results of the brewing team.
How has the PRLA responded to COVID-19?
* Being the chairman of the PRLA in 2020 has been like sitting in the front seat of a fast paced roller coaster.* Bill began 2020 as the co-chair; on March 14, Bill became chairman when the co-chair moved out of state with his work; on March 17, lockdown orders came to Pennsylvania.* In the immediate wake of lockdown orders, Bill and the entire team at PRLA worked to switch its focus and business model.* The PRLA revamped its membership model, which reduced the staffing numbers of at the organization; the PRLA was forced to furlough its sales team and some of its administrative team.* In pivoting its membership, the PRLA moved to be the essential hub for important, relevant information for the restaurant and hospitality sectors across the state.* The PRLA began sharing its bulletins and updates with all, regardless of membership: the information was too critical not to share.* The PRLA began detailed daily news bulletins and updates, and increased the number and frequency of its informational webinars.* The organization looked at its role as operators in public health and worked to empower restaurants, event venues, and the entire hospitality and lodging sector to keep their local communities healthy and safe.* In changing its membership model, the PRLA pivoted its membership dues structure, charging restaurants $1 per day for membership.* Since March 15, the PRLA has seen 150 new members join its ranks.
How does advocacy figure in the PRLA’s work?
* Many of the PRLA members express frustration with hearing new ideas from state and local government that may or may not suit their respective business models.* By aggregating the voices of its members, the PRLA has grown a stronger, louder voice that is more readily heard by government and other leaders. * Lobbying always felt like a dirty word to Bill, but he now understands that elected officials do need education about the folks and sectors which they represent.* Advocacy is an important task for any membership organization, and in fact, of any business owner.
How did you come to join the PRLA?
Supporting Our Local Businesses with Cheryl Kuhn
With Chester County and much of the nation facing what might be a second wave of COVID-19, we turned to Cheryl Kuhn to understand how businesses in southern Chester County are faring and how local chambers of commerce are helping those companies navigate the coronavirus economy. Cheryl is the President & CEO of the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce.
* Restore Chester County: https://restorechestercounty.org/* SCCCC LinkedIn* SCCCC Facebook* SCCCC Instagram
Main Street organizations:
* Historic Kennett Square (HKS)* Oxford Mainstreet (OMI)
What are businesses in southern Chester County experiencing as we appear to be approaching a second wave of the coronavirus?
* Overall, businesses are experiencing a cautious optimism about the future.* While some businesses are in the extreme of “for” and “against” meeting in person again, most businesses are focused on sensibly trying to return to as much business normalcy as safely possible.* While the cases of COVID-19 are spiking, the rates of death are decreasing, which seems to indicate that medical and health professionals are better treating patients with the virus.* Some businesses in southern Chester County are thriving: accounting firms and landscapers, for example.* Anecdotally, landscapers are busier because home owners are home when the landscapers are working so those owners are asking for more services and upgrades to their yards.* Accountants are also likely busy because of the pandemic loan and grant programs.
How are restaurants preparing for the colder, winter months?
* COVID-19 has been terrible for restaurants and events spaces.* Early in the lockdown periods, farmers had to destroy crops and produce because they could not sell to the closed restaurants and event venues.* Some local restaurants have purchased tents, heaters, and tables and chairs – expenses that the owners had not predicated or saved for.* Indoor seating will be limited to 20% of capacity, so the winter months are likely to be very hard for the restaurant, event, and hospitality sector.* The Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce is launching a campaign to support local restaurants: The campaign will feature four restaurants per week and will be focused on a “support local” theme.* The former owner of the Dillworth Inn is working with local restaurant owners to help them make sure that their venues are in compliance with local and state COVID-19 health guidelines.* Restaurant owners interested in taking advantage of this service should contact Cheryl directly at the SCCCC.
How has the SCCCC pivoted to serve members and business community during COVID-19?
* Since mid-March, the chamber of commerce has been working remotely.* The team was two full-time employees (including Cheryl) and a single part-time employee; the part-time employee was laid-off during to the coronavirus.* The SCCCC team quickly realized that COVID-19 would prove a long-term challenge – and so connected with the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., and the PA Chamber of Business and Industry in Harrisburg to partner, and to make sure that the voice of businesses in southern Chester County was being heard.* The SCCCC opened up its communications beyond its members and close prospects – it ...
Running an Essential Business with Patrice Banks
Running an essential business during COVID-19 presents its own challenges to business owners – especially for brick-and-mortar businesses. We spoke with Patrice Banks, the Chief #sheCANic and Founder of Girls Auto Clinic. Girls Auto Clinic is a full service auto repair shop which caters to women.
* girlsautoclinic.com* instagram.com/girlsautoclinic* facebook.com/girlsautoclinic* Twitter: @girlsautoclinic* Patrice’s book: Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide
How has COVID-19 affected your ability to find skilled mechanics?
* In March, as COVID-19 lockdown orders were being rolled out, Patrice Banks shut her business (even though Girls Auto Clinic is an essential business) down for a month to give herself time to learn how to keep her staff and customers safe.* During lockdowns, some of Patrice’s staff, most of whom are women mechanics, could not come back to work because they had young children at home – and those women were primary care providers for their children.* There is a 78,000% shortage of skilled mechanics in Pennsylvania.* Patrice has since hired new mechanics, but they lack the experience of her previous staff.
How has having your finances up-to-date made a difference to Girls Auto Clinic?
* When PPP loans were made available, Patrice was able to submit an application on the very first day because her business financials were very much in order.* Patrice secured a PPP loan in April.* Patrice was then able to get the Economic Disaster grant funding in May.* To get finances organized correctly, Patrice recommended consulting with an accountant to set bank accounts and finance software (like QuickBooks) up correctly.* Patrice then allocates up to 3 hours per week to keep an eye on her finances; it does not always take that long.* Regularly digging into the business finances will reduce the fear factor many business owners and leaders may experience.
How has your salon been affected by COVID-19?
* The salon is not an essential business, and so was shut down during the lockdown orders.* Patrice had to lay off employees during those lockdowns.* Patrice had to figure out how to re-open safely and what new systems were needed to keep everyone safe: new appointment systems, cleaning procedures, and more.* Patrice is considering how best to use the salon space in a way that will generate the most money as the salon’s earnings are not what they were before COVID-19.* Patrice is trying to figure out what services she can provide to her auto clinic customers once they bring their cars into the repair shop.
What was preparing to re-open an essential business like?
* It is hard being a small business owner; March was very busy for Patrice and her business before COVID-19 hit.* When lockdown orders hit, it gave Patrice a break from all the many tasks of growing her business, including finding investors in the shop.* Patrice pivoted to focus her energy and attention keeping her auto clinic in business.* There were struggles learning about best safety practices and securing sufficient PPE for her team.* After re-opening, coronavirus testing has forced Patrice to run the auto repair shop with lower staff levels.
How have you pivoted to online training and offerings?
Harnessing Tech to Grow a Business with Joy Beam and Gareth Yoder
Chester County boasts an amazingly diverse economy with strong, vibrant businesses ranging from pharma and medical technology to manufacturing, and from world class professional services to farming. We sat down with Joy Beam and Gareth Yoder of Cedar Meadow Meats to hear how they are harnessing technology to pivot their beef farm to a COVID-19 economy.
* Cedar Meadow Meats website* Facebook: facebook.com/CedarMeadowMeats* Penn State Berks TestLab* National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
How did you start your business?
* Joy’s grandfather started the farm back in the 1950s with beef and pork. * The backstory to Cedar Meadow Meats is interesting: Gareth and Joy had an idea to predict the health of cattle based on real time sensor information which would collect data to be fed into an algorithm.* They strapped a smartphone around the neck of one of the steers to track movements – and discovered that the concept was worthy of further exploration.* So, Joy and Gareth created a business plan and worked with Penn State Berks to pursue the idea.* They secured grant funding to conduct a client discovery study.* As they explored the product idea, their research revealed that that the hardware development would be costly and time consuming.* At an industry conference in February 2019, they had two realizations:* There were already well-funded companies and organizations pursuing the smart data product idea for managing the health of a herd.* Consumers were increasingly eager to know the provenance of their food: farm-to-table is a growing industry.* Those two understandings encouraged Joy and Gareth to pivot their business model.* Gareth built a website around that concept in late February/early March.
How did you pivot to a direct-to-consumer sales of beef?
* The company booked slots with local butchers to prepare a number of steers for Spring 2020.* The challenge of wholesale beef sales is that it’s an all-or-nothing business: it’s not possible to butch 1/2 a steer. So, Joy and Gareth had to figure out how to sell the entire animal or risk losing money.* They started marketing on Facebook with a video about the new product.* Sales started locally with friends and family; after the sale of its first steer, COVID-19 hit.* Joy placed a big sign out front of the farm with “Beef” in big letters and the business phone number. That drew interest to the site.* Local word of mouth. Sold first quarter to family friend. Selling rest of it was harder.* Joy created a sign that said, “BEEF” + phone number that did a world of difference. People called and then went to website
How did you manage running the business as you got started?
* Between the video on Facebook and the sign on the farm property, word of mouth referrals began to build interest in the direct-to-consumer steers.* When potential customers called the business phone, Joy and Gareth used a Google Sheet (spreadsheet) to capture data like the customer’s name, phone number, and where that customer was in the buying decision process.* Joy and Gareth use Google Docs and text messaging with each other to run the business.* Financial details are recorded in a shared Google Sheet.
How are you handling payments for your products?
* Currently, Cedar Meadow Meats avoids credit card payments to avoid service fees.* Cedar Meadow Meats accepts Venmo (personal), PayPal (linked up with business email), check, or cash.
A Commitment to Information Communication with Josh Maxwell
As the challenging effects of COVID-19 continue across southeast Pennsylvania and beyond, many businesses and non-profits are still struggle to cope. We sat down with Josh Maxwell, one of three Chester County Commissioners, to talk about what the county government is doing to support the local business economy.
* Josh Maxwell, Chester County Commissioner* Twitter: @maxwelljosh* Facebook: facebook.com/commissionerjoshmaxwell* Chester County’s Restore Business Dashboard* Chester County Voter Information Portal* Chester County COVID-19 Cases Tracking
How has Chester County supported local businesses and non-profits during COVID-19?
* The County government appreciates the value that the business. * First COVID-19 case hit Chester County as early as March 13.* The County ran an emergency business grant scheme for small businesses:* Grants were for up to $25,000 per business* The County allocated $5 million for the program* The program was focused on supporting businesses who could not pay their bills, like rent.* The grant plan was support local area small businesses to get them through the early stages of lockdowns – and to re-assess needs mid-summer.* The County understands that the restaurant and hospitality sectors still need significant help.* Chester County as a region received $225 million in grant funding from the State of Pennsylvania – the most in the state.* The County launched a website to provide relevant and up-to-date information for local businesses at restorechestercounty.org.* The County partnered with the Chester County Economic Development Council to deliver the grant scheme and Restore Chester County website.
How has Chester County prioritized communication?
* “Culture is everything.”* The three County Commissioners collectively committed to transparency for their office.* The County wanted to open source as much information as possible – and to then trust the public to make the best decisions moving forward.* The County distributes information via websites and social media.* Chester County has experienced some of the lowest spread rates of COVID-19 in Southeast Pennsylvania.* The County government works to share both “good” and “bad” numbers and information as part of its commitment to transparency.
How does Chester County manage its communication efforts?
* The County declared a state of emergency in March 2020; following that declaration, the County Health Dept. took over the emergency management response room to direct the local response.* The County had to produce the websites to share data – and then double-check the data to make sure that it is accurate.* Accurate data is hugely important to Chester County to ensure that the public trust the data and information that the County shares.
In light of virtual learning, how is Chester County supporting parents and families with children?
* Chester County has a population the size of Wyoming in a land area the size of Rhode Island.* There are hundreds of schools across the county: public, private, charter, online, and more.* It is a challenge to create county-wide policies for such a diverse range of school sizes and formats.
Highly informative and very well done! Congrats Liam and Joe.
Excellent podcast! Informative, Engaging, and Well-Produced
For everyone struggling with COVID-19 and its repercussions in Chester County, PA and the greater Philly area, this podcast is a lifeline to urgently needed information and support. Small business owners, especially, will find this podcast incredibly valuable. Thank you, Liam
Great idea to put this together! Very Needed! Congrats to Liam and Joe!